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Alphabet City (Caldecott Honor Book) Hardcover – October 1, 1995

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The letter B sculpted from the rigid angles of a fire escape, an R in a jagged street crack, an E in the side view of a street light-the heart of this stunning, wordless ABC book lies in the artist's photorealistic still lifes. Celebrating the lines, curves and shapes of the letters, Johnson (The Samurai's Daughter) elevates the alphabet into art. In the process, he transforms the mundane by challenging viewers to look at such commonplace urban structures as water towers (pipes attached to it form an F) and park benches (their wrought-iron arms make O's) with new eyes, turning the city itself into an urban sculpture. Only after careful scrutiny will viewers realize that these arresting images aren't photographs but compositions of pastels, watercolors, gouache and charcoal. A visual tour de force, Johnson's ingenious alphabet book transcends the genre by demanding close inspection of not just letters, but the world. All ages.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Grade 1 Up?Beginning with the A formed by a construction site's sawhorse and ending with the Z found in the angle of a fire escape, Johnson draws viewers' eyes to tiny details within everyday objects to find letters. In this wordless tour of sights from Times Square to the Brooklyn Bridge, he invites young and old alike to take a new look at familiar surroundings, discovering the alphabet without ever looking in a book or reading from a sign. Conceived in the tradition of Ann Jonas's work, especially The Thirteenth Clue (Greenwillow, 1992), Johnson's pastel, watercolor, gouache, and charcoal paintings are much more realistic than his illustrations for The Samurai's Daughter (Dial, 1992); in fact, they are almost photographic in appearance. Some of the images are both clever and incredibly clear, e.g., the E found in the sideways view of a traffic light. Others, such as the C in the rose window of a Gothic church, are more obscure. Nevertheless, all of the paintings are beautifully executed and exhibit a true sense of artistic vision. While parents or teachers might assume from the title that this is a traditional alphabet book, they should be encouraged to look at it as an art book. It's sure to inspire older children to venture out on their own walks to discover the alphabet in the familiar objects of their own hometowns.?Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, LaSalle Academy, Providence, RI
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 3 - 7 years
  • Grade Level: Preschool - 2
  • Series: Caldecott Honor Book
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers; First Edition edition (October 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670856312
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670856312
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 0.4 x 10.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #223,927 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Kara Reuter on September 14, 2004
Format: Paperback
Stephen T. Johnson's Caldecott Honor Book (1996) Alphabet City is a wordless book depicting paintings of scenes from urban life cleverly depict each of the letters of the alphabet. Each letter (and painting) has its own page, such as an "E" in a side view of a traffic light, an "M" in the arches of the Brooklyn Bridge, an "R" in the cracks in the sidewalk, and a "T" in the negative space between two tall buildings. The paintings are photo-realistic in style and view scenes from a variety of unique vantage points, some showing an entire landscape while others focus on a small detail. The large size of the book and the high-quality glossy paper display the paintings to full effect. Children who have newly learned their letters will enjoy showing off by spotting the letters "hidden" in the everyday settings and will likely begin spotting more letters in their own surroundings. There is a secondary message in this book about the prominence of language in our daily lives and that we are surrounded by letters and language.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
My 5th graders enjoy this book. After "reading" this wordless book, we tour our school and observe the "alphabet school." It is amazing how many letters they find in the most obscure locations. The search continues for weeks. This is a great way to hone observational skills and attention to detail. Wonderful book.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 3, 1998
Format: Hardcover
My kindergarten classes love to look at this title again and again. Some of the letters are less obvious making it a challenge for some to see the letter.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 28, 1999
Format: Hardcover
In this book for children (no words except for the introduction), the artist finds settings throughout a typical city in which the letters of the alphabet can be seen in the buildings, streets, etc: a very fresh look at the alphabet that children will enjoy. The book was a 1996 Caldecott Honor book (i.e., a runner-up to the Medal winner) for best illustrations in a children's book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 24, 1999
Format: Hardcover
My second grade class loves this book even though they are way beyond learning the alphabet. It presents a new way to look at surroundings. I've seen children transfer this way of thinking by finding letters, patterns, and shapes in their world. Creative and fresh.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on December 3, 2005
Format: Paperback
How successful an alphabet book is relies entirely on how well it conveys the alphabet to children. Sometimes books of this nature are so wrapped up in their own cleverness (like the wearily look-at-me-aren't-I-a-visual-delight, "Graphic Alphabet" by David Pelletier) that they forget who alphabet books are supposed to be FOR. Now "Alphabet City" is clever too. No question of that. But what Stephen T. Johnson has done here is whip up a book that inner city kids will immediately recognize and cling to. How many alphabet collections are there out there that form letters out of pastoral or countryside setting? Plenty. Johnson turns the idea on its head with near photo-realistic paintings of recognizable city objects and places.

In his forward to the book, Johnson explains that the roots of this project are based in his own love of the, "particular energy one senses in the people, sounds, and structures, old and new, that constitute a city". While out for a stroll on day, he found he could find letters in the most basic city structures, like fire-escapes and sawhorses. "Alphabet City" is the result. Each letter, always a capital, is presented as part of the environment around it. So the aforementioned sawhorse is the very first picture, with kids being able to readily recognize the "A" hidden in its crossbeams. No letter is going to be immediately easy to find. Johnson doesn't outline them in darker paints or even necessarily point them out in any way. The "R" hidden in leaf covered cobblestones is evident if sneaky. He also cheats a little here and there to get just the right shape. To find the "C" in the cathedral's beautiful window, a late afternoon shadow covers part of the circle. By and large, however, Johnson executes an extraordinarily clever conjunction of images.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 25, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Alphabet City has an A In a construction sawhorse, B For an apartment, E for a traffic light and more A B C's. It is a wonderful example of how you can see your letters everywhere in the city!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Sarah Sammis on April 23, 2004
Format: Paperback
My son received a copy for Christmas and the adults enjoyed the carefully crafted illustrations as much as he did. Not all the letters are obvious at first making the book all the more fun.
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